PREVIEW: Blue Jackets welcome Chicago to Nationwide Arena

After head coach John Tortorella and his staff put the team through the fast-paced drills, the team turned to the tape. The feature film? The team’s 4-2 loss to Nashville on Saturday night in which the Predators doubled up the Jackets in not just goals but shots on goals and shot attempts. 

“We watched our game,” captain Nick Foligno said after the final credits rolled. “I think sometimes it’s nice to point out the obvious. You watch it and it makes your stomach turn, I’m sure, for some guys. For all of us it should. Sometimes I think the best way to move forward is to see where it is that you don’t want to go back to. I thought after a practice like that, it was good to see that’s not the team we want to be.” 

Postgame, Tortorella said the team’s continued struggles are a “major concern” 19 games into a season that will feature just 56 contests. The Blue Jackets are 26th in the NHL defensively, allowing 3.32 goals per game, and 28th in the league in expected goals percentage (a measure of shot quantity and quality) at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick. 

By now, for Blue Jackets fans, the issues are obvious. The team has spent too much time unable to clear its defensive zone, leading to long shifts defending and eventually goals against. Turnovers have repeatedly led directly to opposing goals, and the team’s trademark forecheck has been hard to deploy when the Blue Jackets are stuck spending so much time defending.  

There have been times the team’s game has been there, but it simply hasn’t been consistent enough, sometimes appearing and disappearing between shifts, periods or games.  

“It’s not just our defense, I think it goes to our forwards also,” Tortorella said. “We just don’t play as a cohesive unit enough minutes in hockey games. There’s going to be times you’re going to be disconnected; we’re just not connected enough.” 

The Blue Jackets don’t expect everything to be perfect immediately, but they also know more performances like the ones against Nashville on Saturday night will leave the team in a bad spot when it comes to the postseason.  

The time to start the climb and improve the overall play has to begin as quickly as possible. 

“We can talk about it,” Seth Jones said. “You can talk about it all you want, but until you go do it, that line keeps getting pushed. That’s on me, that’s on the players, that’s on everybody in the room to come and be little bit better every day and that will make our team better.” 

Know the Foe  

The Blackhawks are a team that needs little introduction as the teams have already met four times, all in the Windy City. The teams split a series Jan. 29 and 31 before the Blue Jackets earned three points in a recent trip to Chicago, posting a 6-5 win Feb. 11 before the Blackhawks won a 3-2 game in overtime two nights later. 

Chicago has been one of the surprises of the league, riding some dynamic offensive players, a strong power play and a renewed commitment to defense to a playoff spot thus far in the Central Division.  

When it comes to the dynamic offensive players, look no further than Patrick Kane, the future Hall of Famer who is in the midst of a bit of a renaissance season. Thus far in 19 games, he has eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points, which ties him for fifth in the league with Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. Alex DeBrincat isn’t too far behind for Jeremy Colliton’s team, posting a 9-9-18 line in 15 games, while Dominik Kubalik has five goals and 14 points in 18 games. 

The power play, meanwhile, has been one of the true strengths of the team. Chicago has scored at least one power-play goal in 15 of 19 games and multiple man-up goals in three contests, and the team’s mark of 32.2 percent is fifth in the NHL. DeBrincat, Kubalik and Dylan Strome have each tallied three times on the power play while Kane, Mattias Janmark, Andrew Shaw and Philipp Kurashev each have two goals.  

Defensively, meanwhile, after a rough start — Chicago gave up five goals in each of its first four games — the Blackhawks have solidified things. The team’s mark of 2.84 goals allowed per game is 16th in the league, and Kevin Lankinen has turned in a potential Calder Trophy start to his NHL career as the 25-year-old Finn is 7-3-3 with a 2.43 GAA and .927 save percentage.  

3 Keys to the Game  

Patrik vs. Patrick: The Blue Jackets have Patrik Laine, who has seven points in the last game, while Chicago counters with Kane, who has two goals and eight points in four games this year against Columbus and a 21-42-63 line all-time in 50 games. It’s a battle of Pats who can put the puck in the net. 

Get the forecheck going: Columbus simply needs to spend more time in the offensive zone to have success, both to keep scoring goals but also to cut down on the time defending. 

Korpisolid: The Blue Jackets have turned to Joonas Korpisalo three times this year against Chicago with a 2-0-1 record. With the injury to Elvis Merzlikins, he’ll likely go on a run of starts, so it would be good to start with a strong one. 

Of Note 

Cam Atkinson saw a five-game goal streak end Saturday but has four goals and four assists in the past five games as well as a 6-4-10 line in the last eight. He also has a 2-5-7 line in four games this year against the Blackhawks. … Jones has eight points (1-7-8) in the last nine games, while Jack Roslovic has a 4-6-10 line in the last 10 games. … Gabriel Carlsson scored his first career goal Saturday while Boone Jenner tallied for the third time in five games. … Columbus has scored first in a league-best 14 of 19 games and outscored teams 22-12 in first period. … Columbus is 4-1-1 in its last six in Nationwide Arena vs. Chicago. … Eight of the last nine games between the teams at Nationwide Arena have been decided by a single goal, including four after regulation.  

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Patrik Laine – Jack Roslovic – Cam Atkinson 

Mikhail GrigorenkoKevin StenlundOliver Bjorkstrand

Boone Jenner – Alexandre Texier – Nick Foligno

Eric RobinsonRiley NashMax Domi

Vladislav Gavrikov – Seth Jones

Gabriel CarlssonDavid Savard

Scott HarringtonAndrew Peeke

Joonas Korpisalo 

Matiss Kivlenieks

Scratches: Michael Del Zotto (TBD), Dean Kukan, Zach Werenski (lower body), Elvis Merzlikins (upper body) 

Taxi squad: Stefan Matteau, Emil Bemstrom, Gavin Bayreuther, Cam Johnson 

Injured reserve: Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR) 

Roster report: The Blue Jackets will likely have to make a move Tuesday to put Kivlenieks on the active roster after the injury to Merzlikins on Saturday will keep him out on a “week-to-week” basis. Del Zotto did not practice Monday and Tortorella said he’s not sure if the defenseman will play. Savard should return to the lineup after missing the Saturday game with illness.

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